Do You Have a Workflow?

Pat McGrew
Jul 19, 2016

Most companies that have a printing operation believe that they have a workflow process. In-plant departments, packaging converters, direct mail providers, commercial printers, sign shops and transaction producers all know that to keep the business running they must identify each job, break it down into components, and track it through their organization until it is delivered to the end client. That makes the obvious answer to the question: Yes! Of course our company has a workflow. Jobs come in and they flow through the organization.

 What is Workflow?

The repeatable and auditable tasks, events, and processes used to consistently move work from job onboarding through to completion. Some or all tasks may be automated toward the goal of super-efficiency and predictability in production and supply chain management.

On closer inspection, however, what most organizations have is a series of processes that have grown over the years to mitigate bottlenecks as they arise. Whiteboards, spreadsheets projected on the wall, boards with sticky notes holding job information, flags and lights visible across the enterprise, and physical job jackets, emerge over time as teams look for ways to ensure that all of the stakeholders know the status of the jobs coming through the plant. While all of these processes serve a purpose, they rarely provide a consistent view of a slice of time because they are only tied together by the thinnest of strings and an agreement among the participants to keep the reporting current. What happens when a team member is on vacation or new team members are added? The process often suffers because new thought processes were added. New team members may have new ideas, even better ideas, on how to move work and report on progress. That begets change and evolution, but is it a workflow?

WorkflowLight2

Unless all of the processes are tied into a consistent, verifiable reporting structure and provide connectivity to the touchpoints from order entry to delivery, you may only have a series of processes. A true workflow supports cross-organizational reporting that enables production efficiency as well as optimization of the supply chain. As print shops add more data-driven (as opposed to Variable Data Print) capabilities in all categories, enable more interaction with online storefronts, and enable cloud-based services, the requirement for an umbrella architecture that ties the components together becomes critical. Relying on chalkboards and colored lights to identify bottlenecks puts the business at risk.

Consider what happens if circumstances dictate that you must invoke your Disaster Recovery Plan or one or more employees are not available to manage processing. How will the team ensure that all jobs are processed as needed to meet client needs? Can you identify where your organization is on the road to true workflow? Take the following quiz:

  1. Do you have a document that defines your workflow architecture? How often is it updated?
  2.  Is there a workflow owner? A backup for that owner?
  3. Do you have a document defining all of the steps in your print production workflow?
  4. Can you identify every touchpoint in the workflow and if it is reported into a process to keep the bottlenecks visible?
  5. How many steps does it take to onboard a job?
  6. What are all of the decision points in the current process?
  7. What processes are hands-off automated?
  8. What processes still require intervention to move to the next step?
  9. Is the current process scalable to a larger number of small jobs or a smaller number of large jobs?
  10. Do you have a Print MIS/ERP? If so, is it fully in use and integrated into the daily job flow,  disaster recovery planning and supply chain management?

Give these questions some thought. The goal of workflow is to drive cost out of production processes while opening the door to value-added solutions that attract more business. It should make it easier for management to know where they stand on jobs moving through the system, but it should also form a framework for creatives, marketing, sales, and production team members to work toward the common goal of happy clients.

This is the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Let me know what you think. What are your roadblocks? Where should I dig in? Reach out to me! @PatMcGrew on Twitter, on LinkedIn, or  Pat.McGrew@InfoTrends.com all reach me.

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